To the 22-Year-Olds in Front of Me at the John Mayer Concert

This summer, I saw John Mayer in concert. As his songs brought me back to the good ole days of high school angst, I couldn’t take my eyes off of two girls in front of me. They were beer buying age, but not much older. Let’s call them 22.

Before the show had even started, they asked my friend to take a photo of them. Said photo didn’t meet their standards, so they had her take another, and then another, until they were satisfied. We watched as they filtered the photo while they waited for John to take the stage. They pondered a caption during the first few songs of the set. As the show went on, they remained face-first in their phones, editing the picture, fine-tuning the details. It got to the point where my friends and I were half watching the show and half watching the girls, amazed at how much time and attention one photo could command.

When their artistry appeared to be complete, we waited to see if they would turn their attention to the stage at last. They had already missed the bulk of the action, but there was time for redemption. Not the case. Instead, they refreshed Instagram incessantly for the last half of the concert, waiting to see who tapped that heart button. In between refreshes, each girl zoomed in on her own face, verifying that she looked okay.

Truth be told, they probably would have had a better experience if they sat in their living room, listened to John Mayer on YouTube, and drank a $10 bottle of wine they got from Harris Teeter. They certainly would have saved a lot of money.

But these girls aren’t unique. I just happened to be situated behind them at that particular concert.  As a generation, we’re really, really bad at living in the moment. Instead, we’re so focused on showing other people that we’re living in the moment, or making them jealous that they’re not living in our moment, that we’ve forgotten how to actually do it ourselves.

I’m the first to admit that I’ve done what those girls did. I’ve been physically present somewhere, but spent most of the time staring at my phone, seeing who looked at my Instagram story or responded to my tweet. When I was single, I had evenings where I inadvertently used my friends as background entertainment while I scrolled on Bumble, hoping I would meet someone great. (Spoiler alert: I did.)

I would come home from these nights out wondering why I spent $75 to feel unfulfilled. A week or two later I’d reflect on the weekend and realize I had no real memories about how I spent my time. It wasn’t because I was drunk, it was because I hadn’t really been…there. I couldn’t tell you what my friends talked about or even what I had said. It’s sad and a little scary. But after realizing this, I always made myself feel better with the knowledge that there were plenty of other Saturdays sprawling out ahead of me. I would do better the next weekend. We would have meaningful conversations, and I would give great advice. I would listen to my friends and keep my phone in my purse. Yet somehow, that never happened. I would find myself yet again with my phone in my hand, half-listening, half-scrolling. My friends were doing it too though, so somehow it was acceptable, right?

There wasn’t a specific moment when things changed for me. Instead, it’s been a gradual shift. I’m older, possibly wiser, and my friendship dynamics are evolving. Yes, we belong to each other, but those of us who have coupled up now share time with our significant others. It’s a joint custody arrangement. We’re starting to move in with these people, and think about marriage and kids. I see a change in weekend plans, and it makes me crave and appreciate the quality time that I used to view as infinite. We don’t have endless afternoons to spend lazily drinking mimosas. We don’t have the ability to make 6pm dinner plans at 5:30. People have date night scheduled, plans with boyfriend’s parents, work trips, or bachelorette parties to go to. Friendships take more work, and need to be carefully curated. If you want someone in your life, you have to put in the effort. On the flip side, you have less tolerance for filler connections, those people who are fun to go out with but don’t add real value.

I wish I could have explained all of this to the girls in front of me at the concert. I wish I could have tapped them on the shoulder and said, “It doesn’t matter if your ex sees the picture of you looking cute. It doesn’t matter if you hit 200 likes. Watch the show, and enjoy your time with your friend.” But the truth is it’s still something I struggle with, even though I’ve had these realizations.

“Put the phone away!” I have to remind myself sometimes.

Who cares how the picture will look on social media? Who cares how witty and timely the tweet seems?

Look, I’ll always value my phone. I have to. It makes it easy to keep in touch with friends and family spread out all over the country. It’s how I met my boyfriend. It lets me get a ride whenever I need one, or have food delivered to my door when I’m too lazy to put on pants. It enables me to work from home. But you can’t let this pocket-sized computer become all-powerful. It’s okay to give it a rest sometimes and contribute to your surroundings. It’ll still be there, ready to shoot tons and tons information directly into your brain and eyeballs when you return.

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